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Murrays' Mills
St Peters

The Murrays' Mills, Ancoats - permanent repair project

The significance of Murrays' Mills
The Industrial Revolution shaped the modern world. Britain led that revolution, and Manchester can claim to be its first industrial city. Many factors combined to produce the Industrial Revolution - agricultural reform and a banking system, the centralisation and mechanisation of production, the development of steam power, the establishment of bulk transport facilities and the lack of regulation. All these phenomena were presented in the embryonic city of Manchester. The biggest and most lucrative industry was textiles, specifically cotton manufacture, and that industry was centred in Manchester.

View slideshow
of Restoration
of Murrays' Mills

Murrays' Mills Manchester became the boom town of the late 18th century. Ancoats was the first suburb to combine industry and housing, and in 1798 George and Adam Murray completed the first phase of what is now Manchester's and the world's oldest surviving steam-powered urban cotton mill. By 1806 the complex was complete. It comprised two separate cotton spinning mills - the extended Old Mill, now known as Old/Decker Mill, and New Mill - connected by two warehouse, preparation and office ranges, to form a large single development grouped around a central quadrangle. Within the quadrangle were two engine houses, each housing a Boulton and Watt steam engine and associated boiler houses. Also in the quadrangle was alarge canal basin, linked to the adjacent Rochdale Canal by a tunnel. This was the route in for coal and raw cotton, and the route out for spun cotton. Pedestrian and vehicular access was through an arched opening in the west face of the quadrangle - the Great Gate. Each day over a thousand operatives would arrive before 7.00am - late arrivals were locked out and lost a day's wages. Apart from controlling operatives, the layout was a defence against theft, vandalism and riot. When completed, Murrays' Mills were a marvel. Visitors came from the rest of Britain, Europe and America to see these vast buildings, housing powered machinery, illuminated by gas light and operated by 1,300 men, women and children. At a time when Napoleon sought one future for Europe, Murrays' Mills showed the way the modern world was really going.

Within 10 years of completion, the Mills were radically re-structured to take larger and more efficient spinning frames. The buildings had originally been constructed to carry light loads and efforts were regularly made to increase carrying capacity as machinery became bigger and heavier. They remained in use for cotton spinning until the late 1950's - an amazing 160 years, following which they were used for a variety of light industrial uses, most of them still related to textiles.

Decline and regeneration

Murrays' Mills

Murrays' Mills interior before renovationAs the commercial value of Murrays' Mills reduced, so did any regular maintenance. The buildings, weak to begin with, were now subjected to water penetration, timber decay, and failing masonry. Their very fragile condition did not lessen their importance, however. The buildings were amongst the most significant survivals of the Industrial Revolution. They had been Grade II* listed in 1989 as buildings of special architectural or historic interest, an accolade awarded to the top 6% of listed buildings in England. They were located within the Ancoats Conservation Area, also known as the Ancoats Urban Village, and within an area shortlisted for designation by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Their repair and re-use was recognised as important for the social and technological history of the country, and for the regeneration of Ancoats.

Ancoats Buildings Preservation Trust first started to explore the possibility for funding the permanent repair and reuse of Murrays' Mills in 1996. Supported by the Ancoats Urban Village Company, Manchester City Council, English Heritage and many other partners, an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for substantial grant aid was submitted in 1999 and received a 'stage one pass' in 2000. The buildings were included in the Northwest Regional Development Agency's area wide Compulsory Purchase Order and acquired by the NWDA in 2003. This enabled the HLF to confirm its funding of £7.164 million, with further funding being provided by the NWDA. Following archaeological excavations in the courtyard and building recording over the 2003/04 winter, the £10 million repair contact started on site in September 2004. The restoration works, which included the repair and strengthening of all structural elements, provision of new slate roofs, and new windows, cleaning and repairing of brickwork, the rebuilding of the missing storeys of the Murray Street block and the reinstatement of the central courtyard and canal basin, were completed in July 2006.

Objectives of the Murrays' Mills permanent repair project

The project did not seek to preserve the Murrays' Mills buildings in aspic, but rather to repair them as unobtrusively as possible, strengthening them to enable them to be reused for a wide range of purposes. The Heritage Lottery Funded project's objectives were:

  • To complete the permanent repair of the Murrays' Mills complex as part of the wider urban regeneration of the Ancoats area.
  • To enable full appreciation of the significance and architecture of these important mill buildings.
  • To create flexible internal volumes that could be further converted by others for a wide range of possible uses, including residential properties on upper floors and a mix of commercial, cultural and leisure uses at lower and upper ground floors.
  • To encourage sympathetic conversion work of a quality appropriate for such important structures.
  • To encourage cultural and community uses in parts of the buildings and leisure use of the courtyard area, to physical and intellectual access for all.

What the repair project involved

Following a two-stage competitive tendering exercise in Spring 2004, Wates Construction was appointed as main contractor for the permanent repair project on a traditional JCT contract, having submitted a tender price within ABPT's funding budget.

Murrays' Mills during renovation

The project involved:

  • External and internal repairs -repairs to the primary structure (columns, beams, joists, roof trusses etc). Brickwork repairs, re-pointing where necessary, and light, non-abrasive cleaning. Re-roofing in new Welsh slate.
  • Reinstatement of lost elements, particularly two storeys of former office/ warehouse accommodation along Murray Street. (The lost Bengal Street wing, forming the fourth side of the original courtyard, will be rebuilt in a contemporary manner by the acquiring developer.)
  • Provision of new windows to a small-pane design, metal-framed, double-glazed and with a high acoustic performance.
  • Excavation and reinstatement of the canal basin in the internal courtyard, which was originally linked to the Rochdale Canal by a tunnel.
  • The works were completed within budget and on time.

For more information on Murrays' Mills see our Press Briefing.

The shell repair of Murrays' Mills has been documented by a publication - "A & G Murray and the Cotton Mills of Ancoats". Prepared by Ian Miller and Chris Wild of Oxford Archaeology North, the book offers a detailed survey of these buildings, and though it is aimed at academics and specialists in industrial archaeology, it will also be of interest to general readers. Price: £16.95 (plus £2.50 p&p); make cheques payable to "Oxford Archaeology North" and send to Oxford Archaeology North, Storey Institute, Meeting House Lane, Lancaster, LA1 1TF, or visit www.oxfordarch.co.uk

Completed Murrays' Mills shell repair
interior new railings
excavated canal basin replacement 'Georgian' staircase
fire escape staircase
mills and chimney
street level windows
Murrays' Mills
Murrays' Mills view from the canal

Ancoats Buildings Preservation Trust received a number of awards for their work on Murrays' Mills:

  • British Archaeological Award 2006, presented by The Association of Industrial Archaeology, for Murrays' Mills Permanent Repair Project
  • Chartered Institute of Building: Project Manager: Silver Award for conservation projects, 2006
  • The Northwest Building Conservation award 2007, awarded by The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
  • Northwest Insider Regeneration Award in the 2007 Property Awards. More information.
  • In the North West Regional Construction Awards 2007, Ancoats BPT, together with Wates Construction and BDP, won the Northwest Infrastructure Award for Murrays' Mills, jointly with New Islington.
  • BDP won the Institution of Structural Engineers North West Region Award for Best Sustainable Project 2007 for their work on Murrays' Mills.
  • Bernard Talbot, as construction project manager on Murrays' Mills won the silver award in the Chartered Institute of Builders conservation category, national awards, 2006.

The Future

A competitive selection process was undertaken in 2004 for the appointment of a fit-out developer for the repaired Murrays' Mills, following an advertisement in the Official Journal of the European Community and widespread UK publicity.

  • The competition was managed by the Ancoats Urban Village Company on behalf of the Northwest Development Agency, which owns the freehold of the Murrays' site. Ancoats Buildings Preservation Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund were closely involved in the selection process, because of their investment in the complex.
  • The selected 'preferred developer' is a consortium comprising Inpartnership and the Burrell Company, both from Edinburgh. The highly acclaimed practice of Richard Murphy Architects has been appointed by the developer to design the conversion proposals.
  • The competition brief called for a comprehensive conversion scheme, plus reinstatement of the lost fourth side of the Mill courtyard in a contemporary idiom. It set high aspirations for the site, advocating a wide range of end uses including some public access.
  • Burrell Inpartnership's proposals include 130 apartments in the two main mill buildings along with live/work units and a hotel in the new Bengal Street building.
  • The development is expected to start on site in 2007/08 and be completed in phases over three years.
Proposed courtyard view of Murrays' Mills Proposed courtyard view of Murrays' Mills
Proposed interior view of Murrays' Mills Proposed aerial view of Murrays' Mills
Burrell Inpartnership proposals by Richard Murphy Architects
© Ancoats BPT 2004